Only five times in my life have I been so enamored and completely spellbound with a film, so drawn into a world that I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving, that I immediately started the movie over in order the relive the experience and lose myself in the magic all over again: “The Wizard of Oz,” “To Have and Have Not,” “Life with Father,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “The Lion King.” When it came to the latter, the year was 1995, the format was VHS, and once the credits rolled I simply sat there stunned by what I’d just seen — an 88-minute epic in every arena, especially story, music, theme and character.
Watching the just-released Blu-ray was almost as profound an experience because the sound and picture are so vivid that — well, I won’t say it’s like seeing “The Lion King” again for the first time, but it is certainly an enhanced experience. And this is the thing I hate about Blu-ray; there are 2500 DVDs sitting in my collection and Blu-rays like “The Lion King” make me unhappy with the whole lot of them. I finish the adventures of Simba in awe of what a difference Blu-ray makes and then think of my “old” collection with the sickening feeling that I just wasted a couple years’ pay on an Edsel.
And sure, while the mind-blowing animation presented in mind-blowing high-def is certainly part of the draw, none of that means a thing without a compelling and timeless story that works on almost too many levels to count. Themes of courage, duty, manhood, and bravery are all explored through complicated (in a good way) relationships that often force our young protagonist to make emotionally impossible choices. This is heavy stuff for an animated film, but the presentation is so beautifully handled, nothing feels close to heavy.
I suppose kids sense and learn from these themes on a gut level, but the screenplay is so mature and well-structured that adults can’t help but appreciate the brilliance that went into almost every scene. And as someone who has never been a big fan of animated films that stop in order to break into song, “The Lion King” is a notable exception. Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning score and the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are not only good, they’re memorably good. In fact, you can’t imagine the film without them, which isn’t the case for most post-1950 Disney offerings.
The two-disc package is loaded with extras, including extended scenes, deleted songs and scenes, a sing-along feature for the kids and two behind-the-scenes looks at the making of this unqualified masterpiece.
I’m only willing to invest the money replacing a very few of my DVDs with Blu-ray, and this would certainly be one of them.